BANGOR — There was no storybook ending for the local kids at the Senior League World Series on Saturday afternoon, as San Nicolas, Aruba, defeated the Bangor All-Stars 8-1 before a throng of 3,000 fans at Mansfield Stadium.
But oh, what a story — 16 players and their coaches barely surviving their own Maine District 3 tournament to earn the right to serve as host team for the 50th annual Little League championship tournament for 15- and 16-year-olds, then besting teams from across the nation and around the world to come within one victory winning a world title.
“It’s been unbelievable,” said Bangor shortstop Nic Cota after the nationally televised final. “It’s every sports kid’s dream to be on ESPN and we did it. No one thought we could do this. All we had to do was believe, and we did.
“Even though we didn’t come out on top, we really did because we did the best we could.”
So, too, did the team representing Latin America, a melding of players from a Aruba Senior League program that also reached the semifinals here a year ago and from a Junior League (ages 13-14) team that lost in its 2009 World Series championship game.
“It’s an unforgettable moment,” said Aruba catcher Chadwick Tromp, who capped off a game-clinching five-run rally in the top of the seventh inning against Bangor with a two-run homer. “I won’t forget this. I won’t forget this. It’s unbelievable.”
Aruba, 5-1 in this year’s SLWS, ultimately outlasted Bangor with pitching, defense and two big innings.
The primary difference-maker was 15-year-old pitcher Shawn Duinkerk, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound righthander who struck out five batters and walked just two during an economical 78-pitch complete-game performance.
“I knew Bangor was a great hitting team,” said Duinkerk. “I saw them play [in the semifinals] Friday, I was sitting in the stands scouting to see what they could hit.
“But all my pitches were working great today, my fastball, my curve, and my splitter.”
Duinkerk was supported by an errorless defense that produced 13 Bangor outs on ground balls and turned three double plays.
“I knew they were going to attack my fastball,” said Duinkerk. “So I started them off with a curve or splitter and let them hit the ball so my fielders could make the plays.”
Yet Bangor, which rallied from a 3-0 deficit in each of its two previous win-or-stay-home games to reach the final, wasn’t without a major-league chance to pull off one more comeback in the title game after Aruba had taken its own 3-0 lead by scoring three runs on four hits in the top of the first inning.
Dylan Morris battled Duinkerk for an eight-pitch walk to open the Bangor fifth, then Josiah Hartley popped a single to shallow center and Cota got an infield hit off Duinkerk’s glove to load the bases with no one out.
“We thought we were going to do it again,” said Bangor center fielder Christian Corneil, “but we knew we needed to capitalize right here, because this was the big moment in the game.”
Seth Freudenberger then flared an 0-2 pitch toward shallow right-center field, but Jiandido Tromp ranged back, timed his jump perfectly and made the catch for the first out.
“That last pitch jammed me a little bit,” said Freudenberger. “I was hoping I could muscle it out, but the second baseman made a good read on it and made a good play.”
“If that one drops,” added Aruba manager Gregory Manuel, “we’re in trouble.” Cody Savage then drove home Morris with Bangor’s lone run on a fielder’s choice grounder to shortstop before Duinkerk escaped further damage with an inning-ending strikeout.
“I told my pitcher when they loaded the bases that a ground ball is a double play, a fly ball is one run instead of two, and a double maybe will clear the bases but we still wouldn’t be down yet,” said Chadwick Tromp. “I told him to let them put the ball in play so we could make plays and make outs.”
Aruba finally broke the game open with five unearned runs in the top of the seventh off Hartley, who had just come on after Savage pitched the first six innings. A walk, an infield error and a hit batter loaded the bases with one out before Duinkerk drove home a run with a fielder’s choice grounder to extend the Aruba lead to 4-1. Juan Carlos Moncion followed with a two-run double to center before Tromp’s blast over the fence in left-center.
“We saw the last game they won against the West when they were behind 3-0 and came back to win 9-3, so we said to ourselves that’s not enough runs,” said Tromp. “We had to get more runs, and we did.”
Duinkerk then yielded a one-out single to Hartley in the bottom of the seventh, but capped off Aruba’s pursuit of its first Senior League world championship by getting Cota to line out to Jiandido Tromp at second base to start a game-ending double play.
“I know the team from Bangor is a team with a lot of spirit,” said Manuel. “They like to come back, but I told our guys with the team we have we have a good pitcher and we have a good defense, so if we got ahead we could keep them down and become World Series champions.”
Aruba jumped on Savage, the Bangor starter, for three runs on four hits in the top of the first. Duinkerk provided the big blow of the uprising, a one-out, two-run double.
“It started the same way the [semifinal] against California did, they got a couple of bloopers and the next thing you knew they’ve got three runs,” said Bangor manager Ron St. Pierre. “You just can’t spot a team like that three runs in a championship game.
Yet Savage quickly settled down, holding Aruba scoreless on three hits during the rest of his six-inning stint. Savage finished allowing seven hits and three runs while striking out two and walking two.
“Cody threw the best game of his life, I think,” said Cota. “The first inning was a little shaky, but we’ve been down 3-0 the last two games and battled back.
That Bangor couldn’t battle back one last time was due largely to Duinkerk, his pitch count kept down by a five-pitch third inning and a four-pitch fourth that helped him stay well under the Senior League single-game limit of 95 pitches.
“He pounded the strike zone a lot, he pitched a good game, and he got the double plays,” said Freudenberger. “Two of those times we got the leadoff runner on, and then bang-bang they get a double play and that kills innings and kept his pitch count down, too.”
Duinkerk also paced Aruba’s nine-hit offense with a double, single and three RBIs, while Hartley singled twice for Bangor, which finished the tournament with a 4-2 record after never winning more than one game in any of its previous six trips to the SLWS.
“I thought at the end of the game we were going to be throwing our hats and gloves up in the air and saying we’d made history times 10,” said Cota. “But this was a great run, and I think Bangor and Maine will remember this forever.
“So will we.”